Call center workers have become a casualty of the shift to online food ordering, with a 100-person Pizza Hut call center shutting its doors amid declining phone orders.
Pizza Hut's largest franchisee in the U.S., NPC International, has closed its call center in Springfield, Missouri, one of three call centers operated by the company, according to the Springfield News-Leader.
Workers did not receive advance notice, instead seeing a note on the door Wednesday morning that read: "This closure is due to a decline in call center orders caused by an increase in internet orders and the fact that more customers are calling stores directly and they are answering more and more of their own calls," the News-Leader reported.
NPC operates about 1,270 Pizza Hut units in 28 states, which is roughly one-fifth of the country's Pizza Huts.
It wasn't long ago that the call center was regarded as a critical part of the pizza delivery business, boosting the number of orders restaurants could take by helping customers dodge busy signals. In 2006, pizzamarketplace.com, a pizza business site, published a story entitled "Call Center, Profit Center." The benefit, according to the report, was that call center representatives "focused solely on customer calls, and they're trained in the art of upselling."
But things quickly changed. Pizza Hut launched online ordering in 2007, and by 2008, online sales amounted to $1 billion. That year, Pizza Hut closed a call center that serviced company-owned stores, saying it would outsource that work. In 2009, it launched a mobile ordering app.
By 2014, digital sales all together represented more than 40% of Pizza Hut's sales. The rate climbed to nearly 50% by mid-2015. And the chain is committed to growing that share, calling into question the future of Pizza Hut's remaining call centers.
Pizza Hut spokesperson Doug Terfehr said the chain does not have plans to close other call centers at the moment. "It's not something we're celebrating," he said, but the shift to digital ordering is changing how Pizza Hut devotes its resources.